Monday, June 27, 2022

Relatable Respect


About six years ago I had a coworker tell me something shocking. Well, it wasn’t exactly telling me, but it was somewhat angry. She had told a story in a conversation and looked for me to respond and I did so by relating it to a story experience I had. She didn’t like this and said, “Oh great, another Aaron story.” This has troubled me for six years and I’ve noticed I often will give a story that allows me to relate to others while in conversation. Each time this happens, after the fact, I realize I did what made my coworker mad and then I feel bad. That is until I realized why I do this.

At first, it’ll seem as if I’m trying to one-up what I just heard. That’s what the coworker thought, but this isn’t what is going on at all. I understand why it looks like this because a person will tell a story, and I correlate it to something I’ve come across. Why is this? While it does appear I’m am being egotistical, I’m actually showing respect by relating it to a story. How so?

Being on the autism spectrum creates the challenge of shared interests and understanding another person’s point of view. If I hear a story from another and I don’t share something, that means I don’t have a way to relate it to something I understand. I can’t simply create a sense of empathy or grasp the emotion without experiencing first. What this means is that, by relating it to something I know, I’m letting the other person know two things; first is that I do have some understanding of what was said, but secondly (and this is what I realized this weekend) I’m showing respect because I heard what was said, understood what was said, and by relating what was said I’m showing interest even though I referenced something I knew.

Being on the other side of this must be confusing. Someone else can say a story only to be met with a snippet of a story or a reference to something in the past. I do see how it could get annoying or frustrating and this is why “understanding is the foundation for hope”. I learn new things every week and this is one of them. It bothered me to be spoken to in that tone all those years ago, but I didn’t understand why I referenced back to something, but I’m glad to know this now. I’m glad that I can advocate if someone is confused as to why it always seems I’m talking about myself, but in reality, I’m trying to show I understand the best I can. It might not be the most traditional of ways, but I now know why I do this and I’ll no longer have a sense of shame after a conversation like I’ve had.

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